Tag Archives: government

Two New Mayan Cities Were Just Uncovered in the Jungles of the Yucatan

From about 2000 BC all the way up until the arrival of Europeans in the 16th and 17th century, the Mayan civilization thrived in the Yucatan peninsula of Central America.

The Maya were an extremely advanced society with a deep knowledge of science, mathematics and astronomy.

They had charted the movements of the moon and planets accurately enough to predict predict celestial events like eclipses hundreds of years before the heliocentric model was even accepted in Europe (in the 16th century).

A map of the two largest ancient civilizations in Central America. Click to enlarge

Now, a team of archaeologists from the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts has uncovered the ruins of two new Mayan cities buried deep in the thick vegetation of the Yucatan jungle.

The first is technically a re-discovery. In the 1970s, American archaeologist Eric Von Euw stumbled upon the ruins of the ancient city of Lagunita while journeying through the Yucatan.

The city was marked by a massive facade entrance designed to look like the opening jaws of the traditional Mayan “earth monster”.

The facade entrance: “It represents a Maya earth deity related with fertility. These doorways symbolize the entrance to a cave and, in general, to the watery underworld, place of mythological origin of maize and abode of ancestors,” said expedition leader Ivan Sprajc. Click to enlarge (Photo: Ivan Sprajc)

Von Euw documented the facade along with a number of other stone monuments in a series of sketches, but unfortunately he didn’t keep an accurate log of his travels. Once he left, nobody was ever able to locate Lagunita again.

That is, until Ivan Sprajc (who led the recent expedition) and his team of archaeologists came upon a facade that seemed to match the one in Von Euw’s sketches.

After comparing the facade as well as other stone monuments in the area, the team confirmed that they had indeed re-discovered Lagunita.

Expedition leader Ivan Sprajc. Click to enlarge (Photo: INAH)

At the Lagunita site, the team found the remains of massive, palace-like buildings arranged around four courtyards. The site also included,

“A ball court and a temple pyramid almost 65 ft high also stood in the city, while 10 stelae (tall sculpted stone shafts) and three altars (low circular stones) featured well-preserved reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions,”

according to Discovery News.

Lagunita covered 54 acres across what is now the Mexican state of Campeche. Its large size suggests that the city served as a seat of government between 600-900 AD.

The remains of the temple, now overrun by vegetation. Click to enlarge (Photo: Ivan Sprajc)

Unlike Lagunita, the second city was a brand new discovery. The city was called Tamchen, which means “deep well” in the ancient Yucatec Maya language.

The name is fitting. Tamchen is pock-marked with more than 30 bottle-shaped underground chambers known as chultuns, used main to collect rainwater.

The opening to one of the chultuns. Click to enlarge (Photo: Ivan Sprajc)

Though Tamchen may have been founded a few years earlier, archaeologists say that both cities were probably thriving around the same time, making it likely that they regularly interacted with one another.

“Both cities open new questions about the diversity of Maya culture, the role of that largely unexplored area in the lowland Maya history, and its relations with other polities,”

said Sprajc.

Hopefully these new discoveries will give us a better understanding of what life was like in one of history’s most advanced ancient civilizations.

Read the full story from Discovery News here.

Advertisements

Beijing’s Simple Yet Effective Idea to Get People to Recycle (Video)

China has become notorious in recent years for its high levels of air pollution. This, however, is only one of many issues facing China as the country’s middle class continues to grow.

Beijing, China’s capital city, is home to around 20 million people. As a result, the city produces a lot of trash.

On a number of occasions, academics have attempted to estimate just how much trash Beijing produces. They have all failed, due in large part to the fact that the massive trash collection industry in China is extremely unorganized.

So back in 2012, the government of Beijing came up with an innovative solution to their trash problem: reverse vending machines that reward people who recycle with credits that can be applied to phone cards or public transit costs.

A woman uses one of the new kiosks in a Beijing subway station (Courtesy of CCTV)

The machines are equipped with scanners that can identify what type of bottle you are recycling to determine its value. More valuable bottles get you more credit.

Beijing has contracted Incom, the company building the kiosks, to build 100 of the machines across the city (Incom thinks the number will eventually be in the thousands).

34 kiosks have been built so far. Check out the video below to see one of the machines in action and hear how local people are responding to them:

(h/t Pangea Today, The Guardian)

The Head of the UN Worked Secretly With Israel to Undermine An Inquiry Into Gaza War Crimes

This past Friday, new documents released by the news leak site WikiLeaks revealed that in 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon secretly worked with Israel to undermine the findings of a UN inquiry into war crimes in Gaza.

In early 2009, the UN Board of Inquiry looked into Israeli strikes on Gaza in December of 2008 and January of 2009. Their inquiry found that,

“Israeli Defense Force (IDF) targeted UN buildings in Gaza Strip in seven of the nine attacks.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Click to enlarge

The report also added that Israel had,

“breached the inviolability and immunity of UN premises”.

The inquiry recommended that an impartial probe be launched to investigate the bombing of the UN facilities. But for some reason, this suggestion was never presented to the United Nations Security Council. Now it would seem we know why.

Following the UN inquiry, Ban Ki-Moon met and spoke with U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice on a number of occasions.

In their first meeting, Rice strongly urged the UN Secretary-General not to include the inquiry’s recommendations in the final report summary. However, Ban informed her that he couldn’t alter the report or its recommendations since the UN Board of Inquiry was an independent body.

U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Click to enlarge

But while Ban Ki-Moon couldn’t actually alter the inquiry report, he did get to write a cover letter to go along with it. So, in their second meeting, Rice urged him to,

“…make clear in his cover letter when he transmits the summary to the Security Council that those recommendations exceeded the scope of the terms of reference and no further action is needed”

Ban told Rice that his staff was,

“working with an Israeli delegation on the text of the cover letter”.

A section of the leaked documents. Click to enlarge

After the letter was finalized, Ban called Rice to tell her that he believed they had drafted a “satisfactory cover letter”. In this cover letter, Ban asked members of the UN Security Council to,

“not to take into account the report submitted by the UN Board of Inquiry that accused Israel of targeting UN buildings in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.”

At the end of their conversation, Rice thanked Ban for his, “exceptional efforts on such a sensitive issue.”

Check out the full transcripts of the leaked documents from WikiLeaks here.

Indonesia, The World’s Largest Muslim Country, Bans Support of ISIS Militants

With more than 87% of its population subscribing to Islam, Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country. In fact, with just under 210 million Muslim citizens, it is home to the largest Muslim population in the world.

However, this didn’t stop the Indonesian government from passing a new law on Monday that banned all public support for the terrorist group ISIS (sometimes known as ISIL), which recently emerged in the Middle East.

Djoko Suyanto, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs in Indonesia, said that ISIS’s rising profile in the country seriously threatens the country’s cultural and religious diversity:

“The government rejects and bans the teachings of ISIS […] from growing in Indonesia. It [ISIL] is not in line with state ideology, Pancasila, or the philosophy of kebhinekaan [diversity] under the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia,”

he told reporters at a press conference following a private meeting with the Indonesian cabinet on Monday.

Djoko Suyanto, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs in Indonesia

The meeting was attended by Indonesia’s top military commander, its National Police chief and its National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief, as well as the Religious Affairs minister.

The meeting produced three major strategies for combating the influence of ISIS in Indonesia:

  1. The Ministry of Religious Affairs will launch a campaign in coordination with major religious figures in the country to educate the public on the dangers of ISIS.
  2. The Foreign Ministry, the Law and Human Rights Ministry, the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) and the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) will all coordinate to detect and prevent Indonesians trying to join up with the terrorist group (56 Indonesians have already left the country to join ISIS since the group was formed).
  3. A government-ordered ban on all YouTube videos promoting or endorsing ISIS.
Rallies like this one help to prompt the recent ban on public support of ISIS in Indonesia

Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), praised the government’s move, but added that Indonesians were already rejecting ISIS, adding that more concrete steps need to be taken to actually curb their operations within the country:

“In terms of deterring support for ISIL, many Indonesians are already playing a role, rejecting ISIL on Facebook and Twitter, pointing to ISIL brutality against other Muslims and questioning [ISIS leader] al-Baghdadi’s claim to the caliphate,”

she said in an e-mail interview on Monday.

Following the announcement of the new ban on Monday, Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged Indonesians to carefully examine the current situation in the Middle East, including ISIS. He also added that, “not all problems in the Middle East concern religion”.

Read the original story from The Jakarta Post here.

“Concrete Facts” and “Irrefutable Evidence” Aren’t Needed to Add Someone to the Terrorist Watch List

Recently, I reported on the rapidly growing terrorist watch list in the United States. In the past 5 years, the government has been adding names to the list at an increasingly fast pace, peaking last year with 468,749 names being added.

Well, it seems part of that ridiculously high number may be explained by a new set of counterterrorism guidelines that were quietly implemented last year.

The Intercept is an online media outlet founded earlier this year by the man who broke the Snowden story, Glenn Greenwald, after he left The Guardian. Recently, they obtained a copy of a 166-page document from the National Counterterrorism Center called the “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance”.

The document outlined new guidelines for adding names to the terrorist watch list. One of the key sections outlined how to establish “reasonable suspicion”. The new guidelines state that,

“Although irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary, to be reasonable, suspicion should be as clear and as fully developed as circumstances permit.”

One of the charts in the report. Click to enlarge

This basically means that the Counterterrorism Center can place any individual, foreigner or American, on the terrorist watch list without any real evidence.

This “irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary” clause also allows the Center to designate individuals as members of specefic terrorist organizations without any evidence that they are actually connected.

Surprisingly enough, the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified, meaning that the public is technically able to view them.

However, both the Bush and Obama administrations have fought to keep the watch-list criteria a secret. In a recent example, Attorney General Eric Holder went so far as to invoke the state secrets privilege to avoid disclosing the criteria (he was defending the government from a lawsuit brought by a number of Muslims who were placed on the no-fly list with minimal supporting evidence).

News of these new guidelines comes just a day after UK’s official counter-terrorism watchdog said that Britain’s new definition of terrorism, “could catch political journalists and bloggers”.

You can check out all 166 pages of the “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance” here. Read a full report on the document’s full contents in this exclusive piece from The Intercept.

Intercepted Phone Calls Show Russia Directing Separatists to Seize MH17’s Black Boxes

The Ukrainian government has released recordings of alleged phone calls between pro-Russian separatists discussing the fate of Malaysian Flight MH17’s black boxes.

Ukrainian security officials released the tapes on Sunday, claiming that they proved Russia had directed the separatists to find and hide the black boxes.

The call is between Alexander Khodakovsky, leader of the Vostok (East) battalion of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and one of his men (“Oleksiy”) at the crash site. You can listen to the conversations below:

In the first of the recordings, Khodakovsky urges Oleksiy to find MH17’s black boxes, saying,

“Do it really quick, urgently. Moscow is asking where the boxes are… [they] must be under our control”.

In a second call less than an hour later, Khodakovsky talks to another man at the crash site (“Andriy”), telling him,

“I have a request for you. It is not my request. Our friends from high above are very much interested in the fate of the black boxes. I mean people from Moscow.”

He also tells Andriy to,

“Try to take everything that you find so that it doesn’t get into somebody else’s hands.”

Around the time that the recordings were released, Reuters released footage of what appears to be the black boxes being removed from the crash site by the separatists:

Earlier this morning, the news service Interfax reported that rebel Russian separatists in Ukraine had handed over the black boxes to Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee.

Andrei Purgin is the self-proclaimed deputy prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the separatist government in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. Purgin told Interfax:

“Of course, we most likely will give them [the black boxes] to the Interstate Aviation Committee, to Moscow. High-level experts, who will be able to determine exactly the reason of the catastrophe, work there.”

So it seems that the black boxes are on their way to Moscow, if they’re not there already. This will definitely raise a lot more suspicion about Russia’s involvement in the MH17 tragedy.

But, for the sake of objectivity, it is definitely worth noting that these tapes have not been independently verified yet, and are being released by the Ukrainian government, who has every reason in the world to want Russia to be responsible for the tragedy.

That doesn’t mean I believe the tapes are fabricated- it’s just a reminder to tread carefully when trying to make sense of such a complex issue.